Putting in a Good Word

19 Jan 2008
January 19, 2008

The brain is an incredible organ. Our ability to express complex and meaningful ideas sets us above the rest of the animal kingdom –if you can harness and master it. Without cognitive control humor can turn into fits of hysteria, anger into unbridled rage, and intelligent thoughts into pure pabulum.

Yesterday, I was part of a high level meeting to discuss Web strategy. My strategy in these types of meetings is to sit quietly, absorb the dialogue, and to contribute something meaningful only when the opportunity presents itself. I do not want to appear stupid, or, more importantly, not up to the task before us. Before opening my mouth I seriously consider everything I am about to say. I think it out thoroughly, test my hypotheses rigorously, and organize my words to be succinct. Get in and get out.

This is hard work for I’m a storyteller, heavily invested in narratives and making literary connections on the fly. Workplace meetings require the antithesis of my often free flowing riffs. But over the years I’ve worked hard at being able to move between my two worlds. Bureaucracy demands major left-brain activity, the rest of my life just the opposite.

So when I found the right hook in yesterday’s conversation I began my internal process quickly so as not to miss my opportunity. I would suggest we make public the information encased in one of our internal art research databases. And I would point out that its transparency would serve a wide range of our constituents, from art lovers to serious researchers. With everything in place I opened my mouth.

“The information in this database suppository would be incredibly attractive to a broad segment of our users,” I THOUGHT. In reality, my voice stopped after the second syllable of “suppository.” “…suppos, suppos,” I kept repeating out loud, while thinking “wait, that isn’t right, is it?” I repeated the first part of the word one more time before my body synced with my brain. My hand protectively covered my mouth as it went into immediate triage to save my professional life. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. It was a professional out of body experience. In the process of resuscitation I scanned the room. Everyone was waiting for me to complete my thought. When I couldn’t think of the word I really meant to say I quickly found an alternative: “This database is a wealth of useful information,” I finally said.

Suddenly, I was transported back to junior high. I was sitting by the door in Mr. Thompson’s English class when a secretary from the school office entered and handed me a note. “Please give this interoffice memo to Mr. Thompson as soon as possible,” she whispered so as not to disturb the class. When I found my opening back then I walked to the front of the room and handed the note to my teacher. I thought I was repeating the secretary’s missive when I stated loudly in front of my eighth grade contemporaries: “Mr. Thompson, this intercourse memo is for you.” I thought all of that was behind me. And now this.

This latest example of buffoonery made it clear I might not ready for the heights of workplace bureaucracy. But, at least, I hadn’t uttered the whole word. No one laughed, I made my point, and the meeting continued.

Yet, for the rest of the gathering I wondered: had everyone been able to complete the word that had stumbled out of my mouth? It certainly had been clear to me. But doubt has always been my worse enemy. And so as the meeting wound down I decided to take the transparent and humorous road to salvation. At just the right moment I interjected: “And I’d just like to go on record as saying this database is an great REPOSITORY of information.” “Oh, you mean instead of ‘suppository?'” one of the assembled replied. If it hadn’t been clear before it was now.

Later that evening, as I stood in front of the toilet peeing, my work ID suddenly snapped off my belt and into the toilet. Yes, it was that kind of day.

Update: Apparently, I’m not the only one with this affliction. (Thanks, Howard)

3 replies
  1. Dona says:

    That was great Jeff — your storytelling is always delightful.

  2. Howard says:

    Terrific, just keep your work ID away from me.

  3. Jeff says:

    Not to worry, Howard. It’s been sanitized. ;-)

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